Although President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda has been hobbled to some degree by unified Republican obstruction as well as opposition from several right-wing Democrats, he still has the executive authority to challenge corporate abuses—and new survey data released Tuesday shows that an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters, regardless of political affiliation, want his administration to do just that by aggressively enforcing existing laws.
“A Biden administration that pursues crooked CEOs and brings down abusive corporate titans will find a willing audience in the American public.”
A whopping 80% of voters agree that “wealthy people and corporations are regularly not punished for breaking the law,” including 84% of Democrats, 79% of Independents, and 77% of Republicans. In addition, 87% of voters agree that “when wealthy people and corporations are not punished for breaking laws, people lose trust in the government and the rule of law.”
That’s according to polling conducted by Data for Progress, which has teamed up with the Revolving Door Project to launch the Corporate Crackdown Project, the first installment of which focuses on steps the Biden administration can take—without relying on legislation from Congress—to protect workers from white-collar crimes such as wage theft, safety violations, and discrimination.
Voters also back increasing funding for federal investigations into corporate lawbreaking by a margin of +49 percentage points. Notably, this support crosses partisan lines: 70% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 70% of Republicans think the Biden administration should be doing more to prosecute and limit corporate malfeasance.
“We were fairly sure that the public would support cracking down on corporate wrongdoing, but we’re honestly surprised at just how enthusiastic people are, across all political persuasions, for these proposals,” Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said in a statement.
“The fact is that we’re living in a populist moment of well-warranted anger toward greedy firms and the ultra-wealthy who lead them,” Hauser continued, reiterating points that he made earlier this month. “Any Democrat who refuses to engage with that anger is simply ceding it to Republicans, who will direct it at the most vulnerable in society instead of the real cause of so much immiseration.”
“President Biden is overdue to start using the considerable powers of the executive branch to crack down on corporate greed—and just as importantly, to very publicly message doing so,” Hauser added. “He needs to show the people that he is on their side, not the side of the wealthy and well-connected few.”
As Max Moran, research director at the Revolving Door Project, and Marcella Mulholland, political director at Data for Progress, argued Monday in a New Republic essay introducing the Corporate Crackdown Project, “a Biden administration that pursues crooked CEOs and brings down abusive corporate titans will find a willing audience in the American public.”
“Many well-compensated pundits and political consultants,” noted Moran and Mulholland, “have begun either preemptively writing obituaries for the [Democratic Party] or encouraging Biden simply to abandon his agenda and pivot, in some undefined way, to the center-right—where solutions are forever said to be at hand but never seem to emerge.”
“But it may shock these pundits and consultants,” the pair wrote, “that the president has methods of [solving big problems while under pressure] besides giving televised speeches or begging Congress to act.”
Moran and Mulholland explained:
Through the existing powers of the executive branch, Biden can enact good policy, practice good politics, and make life tangibly better for people across the country. The prospects for the Biden administration still teem with possibilities—and the American people have their own ideas about what direction he should head.
We must recognize the common root cause of many of the problems we are currently enduring: corporate greed. For instance, the supply chain shortages we face are a consequence of threadbare logistics systems designed to cut as many corners as possible, all for the purpose of maximizing shareholders’ profits. Additionally, the only way finally to stop Covid-19 is to get the whole world vaccinated as fast as possible, and the only way to do that is to open the intellectual property restrictions furiously guarded by Big Pharma manufacturers. Furthermore, the oil firms behind our environmental crisis shamelessly lied to the public about climate change for decades, all while violating anti-pollution and tribal sovereignty laws with impunity. In all of these cases, firms have not just defied the public interest—they’ve often broken the law.
Cracking down on abuses like these is the only way actually to address many of the problems Americans face today. Moreover, taking highly public action against these bad corporate actors makes for a very persuasive political argument that Democrats are fighting for ordinary, working people: I am on your team, and I will punish the people who cheated you.
“Importantly, cracking down on our golden age of white-collar crime does not require a single vote from Congress,” the pair added. “All it takes is Biden fully utilizing the massive powers of the executive branch already at his disposal.”
In the coming months, the Revolving Door Project and Data for Progress plan to release several “scorecards” for Biden’s executive branch in order to highlight what his administration is doing well and illuminate how it could do more to rein in corporate abuses across a range of policy areas.
The first report in the series focuses on labor—”an issue dear to the president’s heart and the party’s electoral prospects,” as Moran and Mulholland stressed.
“With a properly run executive branch, Biden can crack down on corporate abuses and rightly take public credit, to the likely thrill of voters in a tough election year.”
Authored by Aidan Smith, a senior advisor at Data for Progress, and published Tuesday, Protecting Workers From Corporate Crime states that “nowhere is the government’s failure to hold corporate crim[inals] accountable more evident to voters than in the realm of workers’ rights.”
“For far too long,” Smith said in a statement, “the federal government has taken a hands-off approach towards corporate crime. For workers, this has meant that employers have been able to rob them of wages, deny them benefits, and discriminate against them with impunity.”
While “Biden has pledged to be the most pro-labor president in American history,” Smith pointed out, “his administration must crack down on employer crime against workers to prove he’s serious about it.”
Despite congressional gridlock, says the report, Biden has taken “meaningful steps… towards reversing the damage of the Trump administration’s war on workers” by replacing “anti-worker Trump appointees” with “allies of organized labor” and overturning “many of the past administration’s most heinous initiatives.”
“Going forward,” however, the report adds, “the Biden administration must continue to push for stronger labor regulations to protect workers’ welfare.”
As Smith emphasized, “Data for Progress polling finds strong support for regulations against employer abuses that would benefit millions of workers. These include restricting corporations’ ability to misclassify workers to deprive them of benefits, stronger punishments for wage theft, and expanding labor protections for caregivers. Taking a hardline approach against corporate crimes against workers will allow Biden to prove he is on the side of the average American, not the privileged few.”
The stakes could hardly be higher. A few weeks ago, as Biden’s Build Back Better Act was being ruthlessly gutted by corporate Democrats—including the weakening of an immensely popular proposal to rein in Big Pharma’s deadly price-gouging—Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that “the challenge that we face in this really unusual moment in American history is whether we have the courage to stand with the American people and take on very powerful special interests.”
“If we fail—in my view, if the American people do not believe that government can work for them and is dominated by powerful special interests, the very fabric of American democracy is in danger,” he added.
Data for Progress’ new survey found that 75% of voters believe “the U.S. government prioritizes the interests of corporations and the wealthy,” including 80% of Independents, 77% of Republicans, and 69% of Democrats.
Social scientists have long argued that the U.S. is an oligarchy in which the policy preferences of the poor are effectively ignored and that the nation’s anti-majoritarian institutions—including the Electoral College, the Senate, and the Supreme Court—give Republicans advantages that could enable the far-right party to secure permanent minority rule.
In light of the current barrage of voter suppression laws being enacted and gerrymandered maps being drawn by state-level Republicans nationwide—an authoritarian assault on the franchise that comes in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s failed coup attempt, which was endorsed by dozens of his congressional allies—an annual study published Monday for the first time characterized the U.S. as a “backsliding” democracy.
Meanwhile, other recent surveys have shown that roughly one-third of Republican voters, particularly those who trust right-wing media outlets, have embraced the potential need for “violence in order to save the country.” The thoroughly capitalist GOP has demonstrated that it has no intention of cracking down on corporate crime, preferring instead to scapegoat immigrants and promise greater “order” in a world that is becoming more economically and environmentally insecure.
The Daily Poster‘s David Sirota and Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney recently co-authored a piece in Rolling Stone to mark the start of their new podcast series Meltdown, which explores how the Democratic Party’s refusal to deliver real help to millions of people in the aftermath of the Great Recession “fueled the ascent of Donald Trump—and… continues to fuel the MAGA movement today.”
When responding to the Great Depression, the pair wrote, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “cast his progressive economic initiatives as both a weapon to fight the economic crisis and a shield against right-wing authoritarianism.”
“Democrats still have time to wake up, realize the existential threat before them, channel Roosevelt, and enact policies that immediately help people in order to avert an even bigger meltdown than the one in 2016,” Sirota and Gibney argued. “But time is running out.”
Even in the absence of full cooperation from congressional Democrats, Biden can still deliver on several popular issues—including improving workers’ rights, lowering drug prices, canceling student loan debt, and ramping up vaccine manufacturing—by using his existing executive authority.
“With a properly run executive branch,” wrote Moran and Mulholland, “Biden can crack down on corporate abuses and rightly take public credit, to the likely thrill of voters in a tough election year.”